Author Web site: www.blakecharlton.com
Very few fantasy stories are completely original; most borrow something from those that came before or from various global mythologies. One of the most popular recurring themes in the genre is that of the prophesized savior and it is with this theme that Blake Charlton builds his debut novel Spellwright. The protagonist, Nicodemus Weal, is training to be a wizard but he has one major handicap, he cannot properly read the language of magic as a dyslexic or as it’s called in the novel – cacography.
Nicodemus is apprenticed to the wizard Shannon, who also acts as his parent and guardian. Shannon has watched over Nicodemus for most of the young apprentice’s life and helped to debunk a prophecy that was thought to surround Nicodemus. The prophecy states that the Halcyon, a powerful wizard, will come of age and help prevent the War of Disjunction, a prophesized Armageddon. As Nicodemus comes to learn over the course of the novel, prophecies aren’t so easily debunked.
Another well-worn story element is the school of magic, from Ursula K. Le Guin to J.K. Rowling’s Hogwarts to Robert Jordan’s White Tower, wizards need to learn their magic. The wizards in Spellwright are no different and learn their trade at Starhaven. It is here that Charlton focuses the great majority of the novel and introduces readers to Nicodemus at a time when his life is going fairly well, he’s got a couple of close friends and he’s happy apprenticing to the great wizard Shannon. Unfortunately, people are being murdered and Shannon is thought to be a suspect. In addition, murmurs are made of the Halycon and Nicodemus’s potential link to the savior. While some of those murmurs once again posit him as the savior, others point to Nicodemus as the Storm Petrel – the Halycon’s opposite number and the one who will upset the balance of order.
The world in which the novel is set has a vaguely medieval feel to it, but it could also very easily be a far future earth or colony of earth where humans have overthrown the previously dominant series (I’m thinking something like C.S. Friedman’s Coldfire Trilogy). The power of magic is in actuality spelling and words themselves, as wizards are said to compose sentences as part of their magic weaving.
Like all good world-building, the world is much of a character itself with a deep history and a seeming richness beyond the small college of magic on which Charlton focuses the novel. Though the novel primarily takes place in Starhaven, the hints to the world at large and the history of the Chthonic race who established many of the rules of magic help to enrich the story and lend weight to the world.
While the novel is dressed up as a fantasy, some of the other layers are mystery and horror. The deaths at Starhaven and search for murderer provide one nice flavor, while the dreams that haunt Nicodemus provide the horror flavor. The novel is paced quite well, with short chapters and a lot occurring in those chapters. Charlton’s ability to convey a lot of story with a relative small number of words is impressive. Charlton resolves the tale he set out to tell with this novel, but Spellwright is obviously the first of a larger series.
Spellwright is a notch above standard fantasy fare with a nicely developed magic system but occasionally, Charlton relies too much on prophecy to keep the momentum of the story going. However, through the words and actions of his characters, he seems to realize this and plays with the prophecy as something that shouldn’t be completely trusted. At times the clichéd elements did bring the story down and the dialogue sounded a bit stiff, but Charlton’s inventive magic and likeable characters help to raise the quality of the novel. The novel didn’t blow me away, but I did enjoy it a great deal and was happy I read it. One way I would describe might be “Perfectly Acceptable Entertaining Epic Fantasy.” Spellwright will please readers looking for a new twist on the prophesized savior type of Epic Fantasy.
© 2010 Rob H. Bedford